Towards a population database for the Roman Empire.

Posted on 06 January 2015

Talk: Rada Varga (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca), “Towards a population database for the Roman Empire. Why, how, and where to start from?”


Date: Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: DAI, Wiegandhaus, Podbielskiallee 69-71, D-14195 Berlin (map)


The current abstract sums up an ample project aiming at establishing the most viable best practices set of rules and the optimal metadata for an ancient population database.

Why is an ancient population database essential? Because a digital resource focused on individuals would reveal linkage possibilities that otherwise elude us, it would finally give us the complete and accurate image of the Roman attested population and, through codifications, it would offer the most needed overview on all relevant aspects imagined (epigraphic patterns, religiosity, migrations, onomastics, occupations, family data, etc.). A complete, aggregate database will allow a longitudinal (diachronic) view on the attested Roman population from a certain area and ideally from the whole Empire, but also a transversal (a section in time) image.

Unlike the population databases for the modern and contemporary periods, our database will also comprise anonymous individuals: the ones revealed by various archaeological contexts, mainly funerary ones. Thus, the database will have three tables: epigraphic, literary and archaeological, each of them requiring different expertise and a different standard for the individual recording form. In the end, of course, all three types of individual records will have to be integrated in the standardized database, but its final structure will depend upon the structure of each individual table; its configuration has to be made only after beta-versions of the three tables exist and have been tested for responses to different queries. One individual present in two or three (more than ideally) types of sources will appear in the central database with one singly entry, facilitating biographic and prosopographical researches; this entity resolution will only be exceptionally possible, but extremely valuable from an informational point of view.

Once the metadata is aggregated, the construction of the database will follow a series of steps imposed by good practices: creating a repository of sources; introducing, integrating, standardizing, coding and storing the information; enriching and disseminating the information. The database in itself will have three components: the sources database (with “facsimile” transcription of the sources’ text), the central database (the complete, correct, standardize form of the sources database; the codification operations are made in this database) and the dissemination database (with a friendly interface, destined for on-line usage).

The codifications hold an essential part, not only in the individual linkage procedure, but as well in the analyzing process. At the point when the database will comprise a few thousands individuals, properly recording and with all codifications undertaken, we will be able to use a sociological software for more complex and sophisticated analyses (STATA seems ideal at the moment, but SPSS might also be suited).

We strongly believe that presenting this work in progress at the Digital Classicist Seminar, while in its early stages, will provide essential feedback and hopefully broaden its future development possibilities.




Or you can just download the video files (.mp4): talk (267,3 MB) ; discussion (137 MB).


Or you can download the slides from here (2,6 MB).